Every terminal and communications capable connected piece of hardware came on in a chorus of synchronized sound. The sudden symphony of digital alarms ripped Lexel straight from deep sleep and sent her heart racing. She bolted upright from the old cot to look around her for the source of the noise but found herself confused by the chaos. It was almost like Tyrn’s shop was receiving a call but instead of a single transmission the message was invading every available receiver.
Shaking the sleep from her head Lexel slowly rose to investigate, a nagging sense of dread threatening to overwhelm her natural curious impulse. “I think something is wrong with your equipment Tyrn,” Lexel remarked aloud as she approached the closest terminal. Its screen flickered with the incoming signal, the words ‘Incoming Transmission’ brightly blinking in the background.
“Well, no sense in letting it go unanswered all day,” Lexel decided and reached to open the channel. At the push of her fingertip the image before her changed with a flash to form from the blank notification into the familiar face of her friend. Xeph’s bright red hair was ruffled into a tangled mess and her face was no where near it’s typical flawless self. Something was wrong, that much was clear to Lexel even without her friend having to say so.
“I am so sorry Lex,” Xeph began with a sob. “I have been so worried about you, and I was just trying to check on your mom like you asked. But there were these things, they were like something out of a bad dream – they just came out of nowhere. It all happened so fast, and now I don’t know where we are or what is going on. I am so scared right now, and your mom’s been hurt. I don’t know how badly or anything but it doesn’t look good.”
Lexel had never wanted to see her friend suffer like this, not for something she had done. And as for her mother, well, she was still her mother after all. She was no saint by any means but if anything happened to her because of this Lexel would always blame herself. “There is this guy,” Xeph continued. “A real terror this one, he definitely means business. He looks even angrier at you than our old intro to nodes teacher, and she wanted you thrown out of school permanently. He says if you don’t turn yourselves over to them that they are going to kill us! What have you gotten into Lex?”
“How long,” Lexel asked, her eyes closed and her teeth clenched tighter than a pneumatic clamp. She had never been good with demands, or threats for that matter and Xeph knew it better than anyone. It was plainly recognizable in Xeph’s shaky voice as she tried to bring herself to answer the question. Her closest companion had to know from her reaction to the news that Lexel wouldn’t ever just cave in to such a bullying tactic.
“They said you have one hour to decide before they make the choice for you,” Xeph answered, visibly trembling now. “This line will remain open until then to wait for your response, but please Lex; don’t try and test these people. Whatever this is it isn’t worth it! Just give them whatever they want.”
The screen was once again blank leaving Lexel with her raging thoughts and shaking fists. “I am not about to hand you over to them,” Lexel whispered. Zero would normally have been amazed by anyone noticing his proximity without having seen him but right now he was preoccupied with the situation at hand. “I know,” the metallic mutt admitted in a similar hushed tone. “But I cannot just allow others to pay for my actions with their lives,” Lexel admitted angrily.
“You don’t look like you take to well to being pushed around,” Tyrn’s deep voice slipped itself into the conversation. “Interestingly enough, you’re not the only one either,” Professor Honeywell added as well. “That’s the truth,” Lexel thought to herself and remembered the incident Xeph had mentioned. She had managed to bypass the teacher’s security to peek at the class’s grades only to also find more than she bargained for. The only thing that had kept her from getting kicked out of school was the fact that she had managed to copy down some of the files she had found. By threatening to release them, Lexel had been able to use them as leverage to avoid the matter.
“Oh, you clever little devil,” Lexel giggled. “I’ve got it,” she declared as the urge to dance around hit her. “You have access to all the project’s records, right Professor Honeywell?” The petite professor nodded an affirmative in answer and Lexel started to jump up and down with glee. “Then I think it’s our turn to make a few demands!”